When we pulled into the sandy desert outpost town of Habaswein, we had been travelling for two days and covered over 800 kilometres.
It was early afternoon and the heat from the sun was still sharp and biting when Beatrice, the area manager of Save the Children’s Habaswein office, came out to greet us.
She welcomed us to Habaswein, asked us how our trip went, and showed us where we could get some cold water. Ali, the lorry driver, and the two other men in his crew started unfastening the green tarpaulin that covered the cargo, sending small explosions of dust up into the air as they jerked the plastic sheet free from its tethers.
As the cargo was uncovered, local workers in the Save the Children office came out to carry the boxes of therapeutic food two at a time from the truck to the storage room.
After 30 minutes, a large portion of the food aid I had seen come off a British Airways airplane in Nairobi not so long ago was now recomposed into a massive stack of boxes in the small store room of our Habaswein office in the middle of the vast desert of north-eastern Kenya.
The many boxes of therapeutic food remaining on the truck could now continue their journey up through North Eastern Province on to the towns of Wajir and El Wak. We said goodbye to Ali and his crew and they pulled out of Habaswein to continue their delivery. They had at least another day and a half of difficult driving ahead of them.
Weekend in Habaswein
Because we arrived on the weekend, we wouldn’t be able to see the therapeutic food delivered to the remote villages until Monday, when our nutrition outreach teams begin their work for the next week.
So we spent Saturday getting to know the Save the Children staff who run the nutrition and health programmes in this part of the country, and on Sunday we decided to visit the new stabilisation centre for severely malnourished children at the Habaswein District Hospital.
The hospital is a series of a half dozen concrete buildings set in the sand that house various wards, a modest administration building, and a cold storage room for vaccines and other medical supplies.
Brand new centre
With Save the Children’s support, the hospital has just opened up a brand new addition to the medical facility, a thatch-covered building that now serves as the local stabilisation centre for severely malnourished children with medical complications.
Up until now, children from this area who required hospitalisation for malnutrition had to travel several long hours through the desert to the main hospital in the town of Wajir. This often caused strain on mothers who were afraid to travel to a hospital so far away from their families.
Closer to home
With this new stabilisation centre, severely malnourished children from the area will now receive specialised medical attention from Save the Children’s nurses in a location that is much closer to home.
At the stabilisation centre we met with Save the Children’s nutritional nurse Daniel Wanyoike as he was preparing a therapeutic milk formula for the suffering children in his charge. Daniel introduced us to one of his most recent admissions, a small boy named Mohammed Hassan who had just arrived two days ago.
Mohammed Hassan was lying on a bed with as his mother kept vigil, the thin bones of his rib cage battling rapidly up and down in anguish – a tell-tale sign of a dangerous respiratory infection that takes advantage of the compromised immune system of a malnourished child.
“It started with a cough, and then he had diarrhoea,” the boy’s mother, Halima told us – herself looking extremely weak and frail from chronic malnutrition.
“I took him to Save the Children’s outreach site in our village, and they said he was severely malnourished and had to be treated for his respiratory infection,” she said. “The staff helped us come here to the hospital.”
Halima turns her head to the side and struggles against the force of a series of hacking wet coughs that she covers up in the long colourful scarf she has wrapped around her body.
“My greatest fear,” she continues, “is that when Mohammed becomes sick, there is nothing that I can do to help him. I can’t tell what is causing his illnesses and I am not able to treat him myself. “
Minutes later, Daniel enters the ward with a precisely measured cup of therapeutic milk formula to feed to Mohammed Hassan. This formula is designed with a specific balance of nutrients to revitalize a severely malnourished child’s metabolism.
After enough time, Mohammed Hassan’s system will be ready to take in the thicker, more effective, high-nutrient peanut paste – the same peanut paste whose delivery we have accompanied from Nairobi over the past two days.
For now, it will take Mohammed Hassan time for his body to heal under Daniel’s professional watch. He’ll be given therapeutic food and the necessary antibiotics to help him recover, and in a brief amount of time he’ll be healthy again.
Back from the brink
We’ve seen over and over how the nutritional and medical support that Save the Children provides helps infants regain their health and vitality, and brings them back to life after being on the brink of death.
Tomorrow we’ll follow the therapeutic food as it travels out of the town over 40 kilometres out into the remote villages where our nutrition outreach teams work.
There, we’ll see the environment where children like Mohammed Hassan are struggling to survive. And we’ll see the difference that the therapeutic food we’re delivering can make.
Read Colin’s posts for the previous three days: